Parenting :: Staying together with kids – Relationships benefit when new parents get help

The birth of a first child is usually an exciting and eagerly anticipated milestone in any committed relationship, yet research suggests it can also be the beginning of the end for many couples.

According to clinical psychologist Dr Jemima Petch, about half of all couples report a significant decline in satisfaction with their relationship during the transition to parenthood.

Conflict between the couple, psychological distress, negative relationships with their children and poorer child outcomes can be the result.

“I?ve realised there is an urgent need to support parents as couples because support for mothers alone in not enough. This is my way of helping children,” Dr Petch said.

As part of the research for her PhD, Dr Petch has been evaluating the effectiveness of an early intervention program for couples expecting their first child.

The program, Couple CARE for Parents, included face-to-face group sessions as well as phone support after the birth. It covered issues such as expectations of parenthood, communication skills and conflict management skills.

“In couples who received our program rather than the usual antenatal and postnatal care, the typical decline in satisfaction with their relationship was largely prevented. They invested the effort and had the skills to enhance their relationship and stay happy.”

She said only 13% of women in the Couple CARE program reported a decline in relationship satisfaction after the birth of their child compared to 42% of women receiving usual care. Couple communication also improved significantly after the program.

“Couples are receptive to this type of support and education at this stage in their relationship and hopefully we can change the all too common trajectory of letting their relationship slide once children arrive.”

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